Jazz and Gumbo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , on June 24, 2014 by playthell

 Wynton and me

Two Southern boys Partying in the Big Apple

 A New Orleans Style Party at Wynton’s Crib

   The night had been a smash before the party got started.  Earlier in the evening the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra played their season opening concert featuring the inimitable Ahmad Jamal at the piano and we had all attended. It was an affair to remember as the sold out crowd repeatedly rose to their feet in ovations to the musicians.  It is always a special treat to hear Jazz performed in the House of Swing, especially the Rose Theater, the acoustic engineering alone would make it a rare treat for the serious jazz fan; but the opulent and imaginative interior decoration enriches the experience in ways that’s hard to explain but you know it when you feel it.

Hence everyone was in high spirits as we retired to Wynton’s crib for Gumbo and wine, with some succulent and exotically seasoned fried shrimp appetizers.  Nerves were on edge as we waited for the huge pot of Gumbo to heat up, but as there was abundant French breads fruits and wine we persevered. Wynton’s crib is a great place for a party.

It is spacious, elegant but manly and livable, and enjoys a magnificent panoramic view of Manhattan and New Jersey.   The size of the pad and the diversity of the crowd were such that there were actually several parties going on simultaneously.  Wynton mostly hung out in the main drawing room where the piano is located.  Chess sets were also in abundance in the great room, and like the piano they would be played several times before the evening was over.

 Wynton Plays Chess with is homeboy Matt Dillon
 Wynton and LD

 Hanging out at Wynton’s place brought to mind a party I once attended at Duke Ellington’s spot on Central Park South, right after his triumphal concert with the New World Symphony in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, circa 1974.  That gathering also attracted an accomplished international crowd of beautiful people, but Ellington was a much older man and he was treated in the way that religious devotees treat their messiah.

People seemed to struggle to keep from genuflecting before the great man, even the titled European Aristocrats at the party had to struggle to maintain their cool.  But here the vibe was totally different.  Although I’m certain that the guest at Wynton’s party were just as aware that they were hanging out with history, that our host was a rare genius whose great works will live long after he has departed this world, still everybody was laid back and treated Wynton the way he acts: like one of the guys.

 Like Duke Ellington, music is Wynton’s mistress…
 Wynton's Piano
 …..and Just as in Ellington’s apartment, the piano is omnipresent  

 Wynton is the most unpretentious person I know, given his truly spectacular gifts and achievements; he seems indifferent to his greatness and regards celebrity as a picayune matter.  I have known him for twenty years now and I have never seen him talk down to anyone nor show any trace of arrogance or vanity; he seems to always be trying to get better at what he does and help others achieve their dreams.

Musically it amounts to an incredibly generous attitude that I also noticed in Betty Carter and Duke Ellington, who regularly discovered young talent, nurtured it, and graced the stages of the world with their gifts. Although I find him a jovial and even tempered guy, I don’t know anybody who works harder at their chosen profession nor enjoy it more.  Wynton has a restless and endlessly creative mind that is constantly conjuring up new musical ideas, or strategizing with the managers at JALC to market the program, or managing the diverse personalities of the great artists who make up the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and consistently giving great performances on the trumpet around the world.

Thus I would argue that what some critic’s mistake as arrogance is simply the self-assuredness that comes with great achievements and knowing what you are talking about. Hence confidence is mistaken for arrogance.  Wynton does not suffer fools gladly…and neither do I! He relaxes by taking young street b-ball players to the hole, or bombing them out with his “fabled” jump shot on the courts of nearby projects, or scheming on the chess board for the best strategy to defeat his opponents.

But when he defeated Matt Dillon in a game he damn near jumped up did a break dance, yet gracefully acknowledged that Matt had trounced him countless times on the Chess board, even conceding that his opponent had the better game. As soon as Matt decided the Gumbo was properly heated the guest hurried to cue up, and once they savored the gourmet New Orleans cuisine it quickly became apparent from the soft ecstatic moans, and squeals of delight, that Matt “done messed around stuck his foot in the pot” as the old folks used to say down south.

Chef Matt Dillon: The Man of the Hour!

Wynton's buddy Matt

His Gumbo Inspired Much Love from Everyone

Gumbo is obviously a word that is derived from Louisiana’s African heritage, a cultural reality that the arbiters of American culture prefer to ignore.  As cuisine it is a kind of amalgamated stew with generous proportions of shellfish – oysters, clams, shrimp – along with chicken, sausage, peppers, etc served with rice.  It is like a French version of the Spanish dish Paella, except its soupy and a lot spicier.

When properly prepared the myriad flavors assault the senses with a cacophony of delectable sensations that makes it an intense sensual experience rather than merely a meal. It was the kind of meal we used to call “fightyamammys” in Florida back in the day; the idea was that some meals are so good you’ll “fight your mammy” over it.

The cultured and highly civilized guest could barely manage to contain the predatory side of their character in their quest for more of this bewitching brew. After the guest had stuffed themselves on Gumbo and Baguettes, the wine poured and Wynton sat down to the piano and began a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday to you.”  It turned out that it was the birthday of Joe Temperley, the great Baritone Saxophonist with the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Joe Temperley
 DSC_0004
Playing his Baritone Sax next to the Bassist

Joe is living proof of the global influence of the language of Jazz.  As one of the two great traditions of complex instrumental art music produced in the western world, everybody who is serious about acquiring instrumental virtuosity attempts to play one or the other.  And in rare instances – ala Wynton Marsalis, Hubert Laws, Carlos del Pino, Paquito de Rivera, John Lewis, et al – a truly great musician will perform in both traditions.

Although both genres are expressions of modern western art music, Jazz is the musical Gumbo that was conjured up in the clash and diffusions of West African and European culture as it was played out in the United States.  Wynton recognized this vital cultural connection when he composed A Tribute to Congo Square, an extended work of several movements written as a remembrance of that hallowed ground in New Orleans where the roots of Jazz were formed, for performance by the JALC in collaboration with Adada! a Ghanaian percussion ensemble. The uniqueness of this cultural amalgamation can be seen in the fact that Jazz is strikingly different from the other neo-African musical forms that developed in other parts of the African Diaspora in the Americas.

Offering a Musical Libation to the Ancestors
           Wynton and the Aficans
Photo by: Frank Stewart

There are of course the obvious similarities that are common to all neo-African music, which is a reflection of their common origins, the most important characteristics being polyrhythm, antiphony and polyphony, but while the  music of Cuba and Brazil has remained dance oriented and thus rhythmically restricted to the needs of dancers, jazz is a complex instrumental music in which experiments in melody and harmony were as important as rhythmic innovation; and since the advent of bop it has become increasingly divorced from the dance, evolving into a concert music designed for listening, or deep intellectual and spiritual musings.

Yet what finally sets Jazz apart from any other music of the western tradition are the elements of blues and swing guided by a democratic philosophy that values individual freedom and promotes innovation, which are quintessential American values and thus Afro-American music is a product of the unique experience of Afro-Americans.

We are the only African people who grew up in the belly of the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the world and played an integral role in its development since birth. The USA is inconceivable without the input of Afro-Americans. From the five thousand patriot/soldiers who fought in the American Revolution that ushered in the bloody birth of our nation, to the quarter of a million black men who bore arms in defense of the Union when the southern aristocrats led the red neck rabble into a treasonous rebellion against our government that tore the nation apart in defense of human slavery, to the many others who fought in the rest of America’s wars that preserved the nation and helped it grow powerful.

And the most powerful defenders of the unique American concept of freedom have been Afro-American clerics, activists and intellectuals. Then there were the unsung millions who cleared the land and tilled the soil, turning the south into the cotton kingdom and making New Orleans the wealthiest city and biggest sea port in the nation by 1850.  A financial empire built on unrequited black slave labor.

But in a grand historical irony, out of this bitter and shameful history came a percolating cultural stew that produced Jazz and Gumbo.  And we had a generous serving of both at Wynton’s crib that enchanted evening, as Matt Dillon not only prepared the Gumbo, he also pre-programmed the music on his computer and we were serenaded with classic recordings from the jazz tradition past and present.  

Joe Temperley, looking as contented as a Carnation cow, gave me a nod, an assured wink, and then declared: “This Gumbo is so delicious eating it is more fun than playing the saxophone.”  Coming from a great Jazz master of the baritone sax, whose big lush silky tone and flawless flow marks him as the rightful heir to the legacy of the late great Harry Carney of the Ellington Orchestra, That’s a rave!

When I was invited to Duke Ellington’s party thirty four years ago I gave not a thought to the fact that I would be an eyewitness to history; I felt the same way about Wynton’s party.  Yet in during the course of the event I realized that it was an event that should be recorded for posterity. So I preserved Ellington’s party for history in the essay “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington.

The Duke!

Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance

The standard to which the JALC Aspires 

The present soirée will be commended to the historical record as Jazz and Gumbo.  And,fortunately, this time I had my camera…and I remembered the words of James Vanderzee, the photographer who set out to preserve for future generations the images of elegance, accomplishment and pride exhibited by African Americans during the cultural awakening of the 1920’s known to history as The Harlem Renaissance: “A picture will last forever!”

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Double Click to see Wynton Warming up Before the Gig

 http://youtu.be/ZqtHqCIMyMs

 D0uble Click to see Ahmad Jamal with JALC Orchestra
- Picture Perfect –
http://youtu.be/NBLIhUOWm9Q
Flight to Russia
http://youtu.be/iW7SRlaLrgE
Photographs and Text
By: Playthell G. Benjamin
*Photos of Wynton, Adada!
and Joe Temperly in Sax Section. 

By: Frank Stewart.

Posted: June 24th 2014
*** The event was held at an earlier date.
 

   

On Dirty Dick and His Doophus Daughter

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on June 21, 2014 by playthell
Dirty Dick and Liz Cheney Dirty Dick and Lying Lizzie

 Two Shameless, Soulless, Dangerous Charlatans!

The scathing editorial criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy on the editorial page of the June 18, edition of the Wall Street Journal, “The Collapsing Obama Doctrine,” written by Dirty Dick Cheney and his pugnacious nauseating daughter Lying Lizzy, is a brazen misrepresentation of history that assumes its readers are stupid.  Alas, this latest condescension should come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention to Republican strategy.  As Ihave often noted in the past, the Republican Party or GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party – calculates the ignorance and historical amnesia of the American public into its formula for victory at the polls.

This is because in order to win elections one must first win the public debate, which is increasingly conducted through short messages and power packed slogans carefully crafted by professional advertising people – and the Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to jettison facts in favor of self-serving fictions. These are electronic messages, beamed into the minds of millions on FOX “News” and the verbal arsonists on WABC AM – White Apartheid Broadcast Cabal – the epicenter of the broadcast sector of a right-wing media complex in which the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal are the preeminent print outlet.

Published by that politically backward, far right, racist Australian media mogul Rupert Murdock, whose mass media outlets have played a major role in the success of right-wing politicians in the US, Australia and England, the WSJ editorial page is the perfect podium for Dirty Dick and Daughter aka “Dangerous and Deceitful,” to launch their bogus attack on President Obama. Hence the Cheney Duo’s latest screed should be regarded as nothing more than a self-serving attempt by Dirty Dick and his daughter to regain his place as a credible analyst of foreign affairs, in the hope of influencing the direction of American foreign policy by making us forget the scurrilous role he played as the chief architect of the misguided criminal invasion of Iraq.

Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” They write. “Too many times to count, Mr. Obama has told us he is “ending” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as though wishing made it so. His rhetoric has now come crashing into reality. Watching the black-clad ISIS jihadists take territory once secured by American blood is final proof, if any were needed, that America’s enemies are not “decimated.” They are emboldened and on the march.” The sheer audacity of the Cheneys almost takes one’s breath away.

What President Obama promised the American people was that he would end American involvement in the decade old war which Dirty Dick convinced a clueless George Bush to launch.  He kept that promise.  What we are witnessing now is the result of the miscalculations of Cheney and the Neo-Con Cabal from the Project For a New American Century – a foreign policy think tank founded by he, Donald Rumsfeld and that little chatty pugnacious nerd Bill Kristol – that convinced a clueless George Bush to invade Iraq based on a pack of carefully calculated lies!  (For a detailed analysis of how this happened see: “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” on this blog.)

As always, the Republicans are allergic to history; hence they wish to begin their analysis with present moment.  That’s why they never learn from history and continue to repeat its mistakes.  After recounting an odyssey through an Arab world that is plagued with war and rumors of war, in which he quotes unnamed Arab officials lamenting President Obama’s lack of action against the militant Islamist Jihadist that are threatening their existence, Dirty Dick tells us the following:

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

I cannot recall a more blatant, shameless, attempt to rewrite the facts of history as an astonished world watches.  Let me remind Dirty Dick and his fellow reactionary revisionist of some incontestable facts that nullifies their attempt to substitute propaganda for history.  When they announced their plans for “regime change” in Iraq based on manufactured “evidence” about Saddam Hussein’s collaboration with Al Qaeda and the stockpiling of “weapons of mass destruction” with which he intended to arm Al Qaeda for future attacks on America – a totally bogus claim which nobody who was knowledgeable about modern Arab politics believed – I wrote a scathing rebuttal of their position, see: “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq.”

The Arab league warned that a US invasion of Iraq would “Open the gates of hell!”  Subsequent events have proved them, and the most vocal opponents of the war such as yours truly to be right, and everything the Bushmen, led by Dirty Dick and Devious Don Rumsfeld, said about the rationale and consequences of the Iraq invasion has been proven tragically wrong…everything!   We were also told before the invasion that the war would be short, would easily pay for itself with Iraqi oil revenues, and that the Iraqis would welcome the American invaders as “liberators.”

Shock and Awe!

Shock & Awe II

Saturation Bombing of Baghdad Design to Break Iraqi Will to Resist

High on hubris after the massive bombing – labeled “Shock and Awe” – that preceded the ground invasion of Iraq, there were no limits to the delusions of grandeur entertained by the Bushmen and their supporters in the corporate media.  Hence when George W. Bush swooped from the sky onto the deck of the massive aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in a S-3B Viking fighter jet, jauntily deplaned decked out in fighter pilot’s gear, posed under a giant banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” and announced “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended….In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” to whoops and hollers from the swabbies, virtually no one doubted it.

This was especially true of the “watchdogs” in the press that had supported the invasion despite the skepticism of scholars, and the protests of millions of anti-war demonstrators in the US and abroad.  Consider the remarks of Chris Matthews, the “hard-nosed” reporter and proud Democrat who hosts MSNBC’s nightly program “Hardball.”

In a bipartisan patriotic love fest among American Exceptionalists Matthews says to the right wing verbal arsonist Ann Coulter The president’s performance tonight, redolent of the best of Reagan — what do you think?” To wit Ms. Coulter gushes “It’s stunning. It’s amazing. I think it’s huge. I mean, he’s landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It’s tremendous. It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” 

The Great Pretender!
Bush in Flight Suit
Faking the heroism of his Daddy in World War II 
Real Deal: George H. W. Bush at 19 Years Old

bush_george I - fighter piolt

The Youngest fighter Pilot in the American Military

Unable to contain his excitement at The Great Pretender’s tough guy act, Matthews gushes like a little kid discussing a cowboy movie.  “He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him — I mean, he seems like — he didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.”  Brian Williams, presently the anchorman on NBC Evening News, but was anchoring “The News with Brian Williams” on the cable channel CNBC at the time, opined that very evening “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign artform to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.”

Since I have always regarded Brian as nothing more than an air head with a pretty face who has been trained to read the news effectively – assets better suited to actors than serious journalists – I am not surprised at his empty headed prattle.  But Matthews broke my heart; alas I expected more from him.   After all, it was widely known that Bush had used his father’s connections to get himself assigned to the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, and when the U.S. Air Force experienced a shortage of pilots for the plane Bush was trained to fly and they asked for volunteers he failed to step up!

This is the story that brought the downfall of Dan Rather, CBS Evening News anchorman and heir to Walter Cronkite, whom polls had shown was “the most trusted man in America” during his tenure.  How could these crack “newsmen” not know anything about these allegations?  In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack the blood lust for revenge was so rampant, especially among white guys, that they lost any semblance of objectivity.  That’s why we must be wary of calls for American military intervention in the current Iraqi crisis; we must not go down the wrong road again…we simply can’t afford it in blood or treasure.  The price will prove far too high.

When the mainstream media fails to review government justifications for military interventions in foreign countries we end up with debacles that confuse the public, and demoralize voters.  It leads some to conclude that the government is composed of corrupt liars and just tune out of the political process.  This is the affect that the Iraq war had on many Americans when they finally learned the truth; which is than none of the reasons the Bush Administration gave for starting this 10 year war proved true.

 Dirty Dick and Livid Lizzie claim that “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”  However we don’t have to look far in order to disprove this claim.  The sole charge that the Cheneys level at President Obama is that he said the war would be over by a given date, and that he said Al Qaeda had been decimated.  And he points to the ISIS insurgency as evidence of how wrong President Obama is.  But even if Dirty Dick is right, and he is not, it would be picayune stuff compared to the blunders of the Bush administration.

Let us begin with the fact that the most devastating attack by a foreign power on American soil since the War of 1812 was the 9/11 attack.  It is a matter of record that the Bush Administration had been given repeated warning that Osama bin Laden was preparing such an attack, and they did absolutely nothing to prevent it.  Instead they dismissed such warnings as bogus, despite the fact that they were coming from the FBI and the CIA independently.

Condoslezza Rice

president-bush-kissing-condoleezza-rice 
The Wicked Witch of the West Suckin Up to Power
And While she Fiddled Around Dreaming of  Star Wars

BIN LADEN

Osama leveled the World Trade Centers

 World Trade Center Aflame

 The Worse National Security Failure in US History!

Dr. Condoleezza Rice dismissed the Al Qaeda threat with the observation that no camel driver in the desert could pull off such an attack, and went on about the business of building support for construction of a “star wars” anti-ballistic missile system –something the Republicans like Dirty Dick and Big Mac are trying to resurrect.  The acting Director of the FBI says when he tried to present evidence to Attorney General Ashcroft that such a plot was real, he poo pooed his warnings.  At the time, Ashcroft was too busy with the critical work of covering up the naked breast on the statues of Lady Justice perched in the Justice Department!

On the day the attack occurred the Bush Administration, despite several warnings, were totally unprepared.  In fact Dr. Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor was scheduled to give an important address on the urgent need to build the anti-ballistic missile system, a reckless move that would have violated long standing treaties between the US and Russia, sparking a new nuclear arms race.  So they slept on the fact that the energized Jihadist movement and not a dismantled Soviet Union was the urgent threat to US national security.  President Bush, and his know-it-all Vice President Dirty Dick, completely failed to understand this.  And it led to the greatest national security failure in US history!

That initial failure was followed by a series of colossal blunders by the Bush Administration that led directly to the ISIL insurgency we are facing now.  To put it succinctly, the Bush Administration originally told the American public that “regime change” in Iraq was imperative, in order to effectively fight the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda because Saddam had given them aid and comfort in his country and thus had conspired with them in the 9/11 attack.

Furthermore since Saddam had amassed stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction” i.e. nuclear and chemical weapons, he had to be removed because if he remained in power we would soon see a “nuclear cloud” over America.  This became the main talking point of the Bush Administration as they all repeated the scenario ad nauseum – it’s all on video tape hence it cannot be denied!  They even manufactured bogus evidence and sent a duped Secretary of State Colin Powell before the UN to present it; an act he now regards as the worst incident of his long public career in the military and government.

All these claims have proven to be totally false.  Peter Borger – CNN’s National Security Analyst, expert reporter on the Middle East, and author of the authoritative book, “The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda –  has written an illuminating report reviewing the record of the Bush Administration in Iraq.  Mr. Borger points out that after carefully examining 34 million pages of records from the Saddam Hussein government, our Defense Intelligence Agency failed to find a single shred of evidence of collaboration between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.  And the Pentagon fared no better after its investigation of 600,000 official documents and thousands of hours of taped conversations of Saddam and high officials in the Iraqi government.  Not a stitch of evidence could be found to corroborate the Bush Administration’s narrative about Iraqi/al Qaeda collaboration.

After studying the results of all these investigations, Borger tells us: “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded in 2008, as every other investigation had before, that there was no “cooperative relationship” between Hussein and al Qaeda. The committee also found that “most of the contacts cited between Iraq and al Qaeda before the war by the intelligence community and policy makers have been determined not to have occurred.”  Hence the evidence is indisputable that the Bush Administration, led by Dirty Dick Cheney and Devious Don Rumsfeld, attacked an unoffending nation, embroiling this nation in the longest war in our history based on a damned lie!

And that is not the dirtiest of their deeds: They knew it was a lie all along.  For a full explanation and evidence for this claim read my essay “How the Iraq War Was Hatched in a Think Tank.” The analysis in this essay will demonstrate that one need not resort to implausible paranoid theories about the Bush Administration ordering the 9/11 attack, a claim whose obscenity is surpassed only by it absurdity. In order to understand why the Bushmen would lie about Iraqi culpability in the 9/11 attack, one need only examine the agenda of the Project For a New American Century, the foreign policy think tank founded by Dick and Don, from which many critical functionaries in the Bush Administration’s National Security Team.

A hotbed of Neo-Con ideologues and policy wonks, these PNAC zealots took over American foreign policy after 9/11 and saw their opportunity to take Saddam out – something they had been trying to accomplish ever since the “Desert Storm” invasion under George the Ist.  Dick and Don tried their best to persuade George H.W. Bush to overthrow Saddam after expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait, but he heeded the wise counsel of General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who warned him of the hazards of such a move by citing the Pottery Barn Rule: “You Break it/You own it!”

General Colin Powell: Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff

 George Bush Meeting With Military Advisors

Dirty Dick,  George I, and General Powell
 Powell Dissed Cheyney Too!

Colin Powell and Cheney

Powell’s Favorite nickname for Cheney: “That fuckin Crazy!”

George the First decided to listen to the General who had just led a stunning defeat of Saddam’s army, and rounded on “The Crazies,” which was his secret name for Cheney and Rumsfeld.   But George the First was much smarter than Junior.  He really was a fighter pilot – a courageous one too – and he was the former Director of the CIA, so he was unimpressed with the neo-con dunderheads who beguiled his son into invading Iraq.  If the poot-butt pretender had sought advice from dad he would have avoided committing the greatest blunder in US diplomatic history!

Alas, it seems Junior was so interested in removing himself from his father’s shadow and show he was finally his own man he feel prey to the machinations of “The Crazies.”  I advance this as speculation only, but I have yet to hear a better explanation.  The argument that he overthrew Saddam because the Iraqi leader had once attempted to assassinate his dad is spurious at best, for I can find no evidence to support that claim.  However one can find abundant evidence for my claim in the essay cited above.

Since Dirty Dick has a record of telling blatant lies it should surprise no one that he has resorted to lies in an attempt to obfuscate his, and his callous goofy daughter’s,  role in the present disastrous Sunni Jihadist insurgency in Iraq, which threatens to topple the American backed Shiite government headed by Al Maliqui.  Witness their pitiful attempt to revise the historical facts.

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, writes the Cheney’s, “al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

This is hogwash!  To begin with not only was Al Qaeda alive and well in Iraq, the Bushmen were unable to find Osama bin Laden – i.e. Osama been Forgotten – during two terms in office.  In fact, Osama was comfortably ensconced in Pakistan, posting video tapes mocking the Bushmen’s efforts to find him!   Bush himself says in a video-taped interview that he was no longer even thinking about bin Laden, let alone trying to find and capture him.  That task had to await the arrival of Barack Obama into the Oval Office.  Chilly B. went gangsta and took Osama out!

But Cheney is engaged in a transparent smokescreen here, his ultimate objective is to obfuscate the fact that it was the ill-conceived actions of the Bush Administration that brought al Qaeda into Iraq in the first place: before the invasion there were no al Qaeda cells in Iraq and no violent sectarian conflict.  Mr. Borger explains just how it happened:

Instead of interrupting a budding relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda,” the Iraq War precipitated the arrival of al Qaeda into Iraq. Although the Bush administration tended to gloss over the fact, al Qaeda only formally established itself in Iraq a year and a half after the U.S. invasion.  On October 17, 2004, its brutal leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued an online statement pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi’s pledge was fulsome: “By God, O sheikh of the Mujahideen, if you bid us plunge into the ocean, we would follow you. If you ordered it so, we would obey.”

 Zarqawi’s special demonic genius was to launch Iraq down the road to civil war. In early 2004, the U.S. military intercepted a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden in which he proposed provoking a civil war between Sunnis and Shia. Zarqawi’s strategy was to hit the Shia so they would in turn strike the Sunnis, so precipitating a vicious circle of violence in which al Qaeda would be cast as the protector of the Sunnis against the wrath of the Shia. It was a strategy that worked all too well, provoking first sectarian conflict in Iraq and later civil war.”

That’s how Iraq got in the murderous mess it is in as I write.  No amount of hysterical deceptive prattle attempting to blame President Obama can change these facts.  In the next installment on the Iraqi crisis I will discuss what the President should do next, casting a critical eye toward the recommendations of Dirty Dick, his daughter, and assorted Republican chicken hawks and pugnacious dunderheads.

 The ISIL Jihadist Commit Mass Slaughter
ISIS Mass Killings
Bush and Cheney’s Real Legacy in Iraq
 Double Click to See Paul O’Neil tell real story

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/paul-oneill-speaks-out

Former Bush Cabinet tells how the decision was made to invade Iraq
Click to see ABC Report on Iraq

http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/reid-scoffs-cheneys-iraq-criticism-24197492

Senate Majority Leader Responds to Dirty Dick
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Playthell G. Benjamin

San Francisco, California

 June 20, 2014

A Fool’s Errand!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on June 16, 2014 by playthell
george hw bush strike group
 USS George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Force

 Is Barack about to Repeat Bush’s Folly?

Amid cries from media talking heads and some members of Congress to “do something” in order to save Iraq from falling under the control of Islamic Jihadists, President Obama has ordered the USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group to the region.  The fleet is anchoring in a position that is within striking distance of Iraq by the planes and missiles with which the carrier is armed.  Witnessing this turn of events the thoughtful observer who is paying attention to developments in Iraq, particularly the rise of ISIS Jihadist, is forced to wonder just what is going on.

At the root of our government’s response is the deeply held belief by many Americans that the US President should be able to impose his will on the world.  This explains why even those Americans who tell pollsters that they are tired of war, and don’t want to see their country embarking on yet another foreign war, still blame President Obama for not being able to control events in volatile hot spots across the globe.  However President Obama knows that he is in the same situation as Abe Lincoln when, referring to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Lincoln said “clearly I have not controlled events, but events have controlled me.”

If President Lincoln couldn’t prevent a Civil War on US soil, where white Christian brothers slaughtered each other in what was then the bloodiest war in history, how is President Obama supposed to stop a civil/religious war among Muslims thousands of miles away that has been raging for 1800 years?  The neo-con militarist and assorted chicken hawks assure us that we can accomplish our objectives with airpower.

Although I am a former member of the United States Strategic Air Command, the greatest bomber fleet ever assembled, I agree with Colin Powell, an Army General, that proponents of air power always make claims they cannot keep.  And I have no doubt the idea that the Iraqi insurgents can be defeated with bombing strikes will prove a bogus claim.

How can I speak with such certainty in this matter you wonder?   Well, one does not have to be a mental colossus in order to figure it out.  During my stay in SAC I learned a lot about what bombing can do; I also learned what it can’t do. And bombs cannot distinguish innocent civilians from the Jihadists.

Alas it is indisputable fact that one of the main things which turned the populace against the US in Iraq and Afghanistan is the killing of innocent civilians due to “friendly America fire.”  Most often this takes the form of bombs gone awry, missing their targets and slaughtering innocent souls.  Hence it is a no brainer to figure out that more bombing, and the “collateral damage” of more dead civilians, will not win friends and influence Iraqi’s to love America.

I am convinced that to resume bombing of Iraq is the essence of “folly” as defined by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman in her path breaking book “The March of Folly.”  It is, I think, an omen of some sort that I should be writing the same kind of critical arguments on what appears to be the second invasion of Iraq – albeit solely with air power this time – as I published on the eve of the first invasion.  Then I pointed out that George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was dangerous folly because all of the objective evidence suggested it would prove contrary to American National Security interests.  (See: “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq”)

Now I am compelled to raise my voice in a warning to President Obama: bombing Iraq will not stop the Jihadists!  But it will produce more anti-American zealots among the population.  This is not a matter of conjecture, all we need do is analyze the consequences of the Bush invasion, where bombs were deployed promiscuously.  Most Americans have forgotten now, being a nation of folks who suffer with historical amnesia, but the invasion of Iraq began with a massive bombing attack code named “Shock and Awe.” 

It was a spectacular display of American airpower broadcast in real time on television, I called it “March Madness;” it was supposed to frighten the Iraqi resistance into surrender.  It didn’t.  Hence we now find ourselves a decade later still trying to disengage from that little desert country after a massive expenditure of blood and treasure has left us with more enemies than friends.

This explains why despite the increasingly hysterical cries from elements in the media and Congress to “do something,” Barack Obama must not repeat Bush’s Folly with a massive bombardment of Iraq again….that would be a fool’s errand indeed!

Fighter Planes on the Flight Deck of Carrier

aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

Making more enemies in Iraq?

 

Playthell G, Benjamin
San Francisco, CA
June 16, 2014

A Tragic Reality Check in Iraq

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on June 13, 2014 by playthell
iraq.si Rebel Army, ISIL, advancing on Mosul

American Meddling in Middle East Ends in Disaster….Again

While US pundits and policy wonks despair over the success of Islamic Jihadists in Iraq with the dramatic capture of Mosul, the nation’s second largest city, it comes as no surprise to this observer.  On the eve of the US invasion of that country, with the clearly stated objective of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, I wrote an extended commentary pointing out that this would prove a grave mistake because the policy was based on a lie cooked up by politicized intelligence operatives.  (See: “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq” on this blog)

I pointed out that the central premise in the Bush Administration’s argument for invading Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was an ally of the Jihadists that attacked the US on 9/11 was a transparent lie.   I argued instead that Saddam Hussein was actually an enemy of the Jihadist in Al Qaeda and committed to the defeat of Osama bin Laden – who viewed all secular leaders of predominantly Muslim countries like Saddam as apostates worthy of death!

Hence by removing Saddam the US weakened the war against the Jihadists, because it was the secular military strong men like Saddam that had prevented the Islamic zealots from taking over these countries – often through popular elections such as in Algeria.  Subsequent events in Egypt and Libya have proven my argument true and now it is coming to pass in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was all predictable to anyone with an understanding of the modern political history of the Islamic world and committed to an objective assessment of the facts, rather than tailoring them to justify a preconceived policy.

The deterioration of the US backed regime in Iraq – whose installation cost Americans five thousand lives over ten years of military and related action for a price of around two trillion dollars – must be viewed as yet another spectacular failure of US policy in the Islamic world.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the advance of fundamentalist militant Islam has been aided and abetted by American intervention in the region more than any single source.

For instance the overthrow of President Muhammad Mossedeck in Iran during 1953, under President Eisenhower, led directly to the Islamic revolution in Iran, which was so popular the US was powerless to stop it. This, of course, was an unintended consequence of a US covert action, just as the present disaster in Iraq is an unintended consequence of the misbegotten American invasion.   Alas, some conspiracy theorists on the right will no doubt view the present victory of the Jihadist forces in Iraq as a sinister covert plot by the “secret Muslim ally” of the Jihadists in the White House, an undercover Kenyan who deceived the American people into voting for him twice, and now has betrayed our trust by removing American troops from Iraq in order to create the conditions for a Islamist takeover.

No matter that such sinister charges make no sense; it didn’t stop the conspiracy theorist on the left from concluding that George Bush actually ordered the terrorist attack on 9/11, or that the CIA was the moving force behind the popular uprisings of the “Arab Spring.”  However the Republican critics of President Obama’s policy toward the Arab Spring, or the Syrian Uprising, or the Iranian nuclear program, are just as devoid of reality as the zealots on the left.

The truth is that Barack Obama has been Solomonic in the wisdom he has employed in dealing with these bewilderingly complex foreign events. (See the essays in the section “On War and Peace in the Middle East” and other relevant essays listed under “On Foreign Policy on this blog) The beginning of this wisdom is the president’s recognition that America cannot control these events with military force.  In this the American people have been fortunate indeed.

When we consider the consequences of the major thrust of US policy in the Islamic world over the last 60 years, it is easy to recognize that it has been a dismal failure and we needed a change of vision and policy.   This is why early on in his administration Barack travelled to Egypt to offer an olive branch of peace to the Islamic world, even as he declared total war on those who chose the Jihadist path. (See: “Of all the Places in the Islamic world, Why Egypt?” on this blog)

If we look at the three most explosive problems the US faces in the Middle East as I write – the Islamic regime in Iran; the rising power of Islamic Jihadist in Afghanistan and Iraq; the protracted Israeli/Palestinian conflict that constantly threatens to plunge into violence, we can see the consequences of American meddling in an attempt to install or defend client regimes that will defend American hegemony in the region.  Added to this dismal record of monumental failures is the uncritical American support for the corrupt and fascistic royal family of Saudi Arabia, which is what got us in trouble with Al Qaeda in the first place.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who was roundly defeated by Barack Obama in his bid for the presidency, offered this bit of advice.  “”The President should get rid of his entire national security team including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”  Bringing back the generals who failed to defeat the Insurgents in Iraq for half a decade would “turn this whole situation around,” in the opinion of this Vietnam era warrior and member of the Senate Arms Services Committee.  Luckily, McCain stopped short of calling for the resumption of American bombing in Iraq the way some are doing.  At least as of this writing….but as Fats Waller would say: “One never knows, do one?”

Yet, listening to McCain’s reactions to the major trouble spots on the American foreign policy radar – i.e. Iran, Ukraine, Syria, et al – one shudders to think of where this nation would be if John McCain had been in office for the last six years.  He wanted to intervene everywhere during the Arab Spring uprisings, and criticized President Obama for “leading from behind” in Libya.  Which has proved to be a brilliant innovative strategy that accomplished American objectives without involving us in yet another war in the Arab world.

Big MAC would have long ago bombed Iran and he would have maintained the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until “victory” was won!  He even suggested that we use American policy in Korea as a model for Iraq and Afghanistan – although American military forces are still stationed in Korea after sixty years, and we have yet to sign an armistice officially ending the Korean War!

McCain would arm the Syrian Rebels, which would be a repeat of the mistake the US made in arming and training the Afghanistan Mujahideen – which metamorphosed into the Taliban and Al Qaeda!   At the time we were told that these people were “heroes” because they were fighting the Russians, now they have become our worst nightmare.

The spectacular success of the Islamist forces in Iraq – whose objective is to build an Islamic Caliphate that includes Syria – is evidence that things have gone as badly in Iraq, a country that had no problem with ethnic strife nor Islamic insurgents before the Neo-Con Bushmen led by “Dirty Dick” Cheney convinced Clueless George to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a leader who had committed no hostile act against the US. (See: “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” on this blog)

And now McCain wants to arm and train pro-western forces in the Ukraine, despite the fact that they are riddled with neo-Nazis – with the ultimate objective of incorporating that former Soviet Republic into NATO.  This is a prescription for nuclear war!  Hence, to put it succinctly, If John McCain was our president instead of Barack Obama we would be in wars all over the globe, and hovering on the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Bluesman Percy Mayfield’s lyrics would have become a tragic prophecy:

“The whole world is in trouble and the danger zone is everywhere….if man don’t put an end to his horrible sins, hate will set the world aflame…what a shame!”

Soldiers of Allah

Isis Militants

Fighting for the Islamic Caliphate
This is Part I of a series of Articles on the Iraq Crisis.
Playthell Benjamin
San Francisco, California
June, 2014
*Note: To locate any of the articles cited above just enter the titles into the search box.

The Black Liberation Struggle is Global  

Posted in In Remembrance of Brother Elombe Brath with tags on June 1, 2014 by playthell

ElombeMandelahandshake

 Elombe Brath with Nelson and Winnie Mandela in Harlem

 A South African Reflects on Elombe Brath

It is really a blessing and an honor for me to pay my tribute to brother Elombe. You see, not many people who are in South Africa would say they know Elombe and yet they do, especially those of the African National Congress who were stationed in New York and around America. When Playthell’s article, “Remembering Brother Elombe,” was posted on my FB timeline, it really brought my experiences in South Africa to the fore. You see, I was fortunate enough to meet Elombe through the ANC cadres during my forays into the US in the very early eighties.  Although I didn’t belong to the ANC they were nonetheless my friends and I had a lot of contact and consultations with them.

You see, before I knew who Elombe was, I always thought he was a brother from South Africa, the way he fused and melded with the leadership of the ANC, when the movement was allowed to have an apartment and a tiny office at the UN. At that time, the ANC was labeled to be a “Terrorist” group by the American government, and they were not welcome in the US.  Even though the ANC never had an office in Harlem, Elombe and the people of Harlem fully embraced them.

Elombe was involved in all matters and issues that concerned the ANC.  He was present at their meeting(anchoring and MC-ing ANC events throughout New York), and whenever the ANC celebrated the June 1976 students revolts in Soweto in halls throughout Harlem, or held their speechifying rallies in Central Park, City College, and throughout America. Many times I would see him hanging with the ANC brothers at the Grant’s Tomb Jazz concerts. He acted as a buffer between the harassing US officials and the targeted ANC movement without fear or doubts.

One would see him at the Slave Theater, introducing eminent African American Scholars like Amos Wilson, Dr. Clarke, Dr. Ben and a host of other great scholars, and one could also tell that his involvement was that of a person completely and thoroughly embedded within his community.  He lived in the Schomburg Towers, named for the great Afro-Puerto Rican who founded the world-famous Schomburg Collection on black history and culture, around 110th Street in Harlem.  In Elombe one could see the Afro-American counterpart of some of the unsung and unknown political stalwarts of the Ghetto of Soweto in South Africa.

One is immediately reminded for instance of James Sofasonke Mpanza, who today is famously known as the “Father of Soweto.”  He was the man who took all the folks who had moved from the rural areas to work in the Crown Mines of Johannesburg, and helped them to find work where they could live with their families. Many of them were forcefully removed from the newly found shacks they called homes, which were very close to the city and the mines, by the police forces of the Apartheid state.  These areas were in violation of South Africa’s Native Areas Act – which was part of the Group Areas Act that reserved 80% of the nation’s best lands for the white minority – and were considered to be “Black Spots” by the Apartheid masters, who therefore justified their forced removal of the inhabitants of these ramshackle tin-can-corrugated-iron shacks.  This was a crime against humanity, but the US and other western “democracies” looked the other way.

 James Sofasonke Mpanza
James-Mpanza - south Africa
 “The Father of Soweto”

These places were known as the “e-Maplatini”(By the Shacks), which were sprouting up twelve miles away from the city limits of Johannesburg, and were nestled next to a river called the Klip – “Small Stones” – River. Mpanza went to the Johannesburg City Council and demanded better housing for his people. Mandela, in those days, was not as powerful as he came to be known by the world; Mpanza was also their leader. Mandela and Tambo had offices of law wheret they were practicing in what could be called Downtown Johannesburg.

But Mpanza, who lived in Orlando East, had his family living in the houses that he had managed to cajole Oppenheimer – the largest owner of Gold and Diamond Mines – into helping to build, despite the fact that the apartheid regime did not want them built. Mpanza eventually managed to get funding from De Beers/Anglo American Gold Mines, owned by Oppenheimer, which put down money and built Orlando East and West, and other Townships which are known as Soweto, today. Mpanza never left Orlando East, instead he owned racing horses, and kept them in his yard. One should understand that it was impossible to move elsewhere under the apartheid police state of his time.

Soweto: Legacythe Apartheid Era

 Soweto

 South Africa’s Version of American Indian Reservations

But he was a man who worked tirelessly to make sure his people got housing, engaged in strikes, and took care of the poor and homeless, got them houses, jobs – what Mpanza was doing was in the Garvey mode of hands-on action and tangible results that people could see. He loved soccer and was an ardent member and follower of the local soccer club, formed in 1937 and called “Orlando Pirates” with their black and white uniform and Skull and Bones Insignia to go along with that.

One of the club’s war cries is “Ezikamagebula za gebula umhlaba” (Those that scoop/took and scooped/took the earth”), and in this sense, Mpanza was of the people and the people were for him, they were referring to Mpanza himself as the stalwart of the team.  One could always see Mpanza walking street by street in the Township of Orlando, going in into every house and finding out what the people’s problems were – and immediately worked toward solving them.

What has this got to do with Elombe? Well, reading the eulogy by Playthell, the way he recalls all about Elombe and describes what he was doing for the community of Harlem, his comportment/’intelligence in the struggle, and his understanding of the realpolitik, locally and internationally, is paralleled by what leaders like Mpanza were doing in South Africa. Mpanza was not formally educated as such, but he was a social worker and activist. He did not use ideological rhetoric but effectively changed the material well-being of his people by being a serious thorn in the side of the Apartheid regime. He also had a great and permanently lasting impact on us all as children.

Mpamza formed a party, which was unheard off during apartheid, called the “Sofasonke” –“We Are Going to Die Together” – Party which was at the forefront of the African struggle against Apartheid. They used to be clad in their white and red uniforms – akin to Marcus Garvey’s Universal Improvement Association, which had a serious impact on the people of South Africa. All the known leaders of South Africa lived in Soweto – Sobukwe lived in Mofolo and Mandela lived in Orlando West – in the houses that Mpanza built for his people, financed by mining interests. This is where, as kids, we were introduced to the politics of action – by the Sofasonke Party. We followed our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and family when they marched and protested.

This led us to come to understanding the complexity, depth and breadth of our struggles in South Africa. We came to recognize and understand that the issues being protested were our issues; our bread and butter matters.  We needed housing, food, work, schools, churches, and roads; Mpanza oversaw this whole project, but still remained in the community and lived amongst us. If Mandela and his friends were hanging out in the White suburbs with all the different ethnic groups, Mpanza was wholly involved with his people in the Townships, and lived and socialized amongst us, and never left the Township, nor accumulated riches for himself.

He lived in a house in Orlando East he helped build, with family – which looked the same as all the other houses around it.  Playthell says of Elombe that he was exposed to many opportunities to escape the trials and tribulations of the USA, but he chose to always come back among the people of Harlem; he carried out his art of education through art and many other means; he attended many meetings in all kinds of places, and was well grounded with his brothers and  sisters ( like Dr. Walter Rodney, “Groundings with my Brothers”) in his community.

One could buy Audiotapes on the pavements on the Street in 125th in Harlem about African History: it might be one of the many speeches of Clarke, Ben, Asa Hilliard, Amos Wilson, and many others, but one would often find that the Master of Ceremonies was Elombe, just as when Mandela visited Harlem.  He would introduce the speakers and then offer a summary after their speeches before opening the floor for question-and-answer sessions with them.

Elombe’s radio program on WBAI, “Africalidescope,” was fantastic and one had to make time to listen to it. There was always something new and beneficial/informative for the listening audience, and in particular African people of New York, USA, Caribbean and Africa: most particularly South Africa.  He critically examined issues for the African American people and used the radio to educate them about South Africa.

Elombe’s involvement in the ANC was selfless and he was, at times, more committed and involved than some of the people he was helping. He was the rudder and radar for the ANC in the US.  He connected them with relevant people who were prepared to help the ANC fight the Boers in whatever way they could. Whenever one watched him in action making things possible, especially with the ANC, you could see that this was not a person who was ‘helping’ the ANC, he was one with the ANC for all intents and purposes.

I know this because I witnessed ANC cadres do a lot of consulting with him, and saw his involvement in many of their events and activities.  Elombe was at the forefront in helping the ANC and extending the struggle of the people of South Africa into the community of Harlem.  He demonstrated the same intensity and passion for both people (African Americans and South Africans) as he worked to raise the awareness level about the reality of both struggles.

To me, Elombe was and will remain the Mpanza of Harlem and Soweto, because he was not just talk; he was a man of action with a sense of urgency one could read on his intense and intelligent face.   Getting things done was what he was all about, and this impression of Elombe has not left my mind to this day. So that, when I saw Playthell’s essay on Elombe, it took me back to the days of Mpanza; who made it possible for us to be raised as the Students who rebelled and overthrew Apartheid, witnessing the beginning of June 16th 1976.

We were fearless, and we wanted real and substantive change. We knew the Boers, and had met them as children in the protests organized by Mpanza, and now we were the 1976 Youth, and we really took the battle to the Boers. They butchered us, but we prevailed to eventually see to it that the ANC took over power, to at least rule South Africa politically. But this just did not begin in 1976, it was from Mpanza and his activism, strength, fortitude, focus, belief as a man of action that we learnt, and we perfected the art of struggling against Apartheid in June 1976.

What I am saying is that the ANC was able to survive in New York in particular, because there was a man named Elombe Brath, and he took them by hand, shielded their bodies, helped them raise funds, find accommodation in housing, funds to move about the US and world, furnished them with necessary political information and hipped them to the local and national political realities, the intelligence agencies and their ways of working, and taught them how they should deal with such issues. To me, he was pivotal in helping the ANC maintain some modicum of existence here in the United States where, as I have pointed out, they were labelled a terrorist group and were unwelcome.

He took their issues onto the radio, and utilized every means of communicating the struggle of South Africa.  Yet I say it was not just Elombe helping the ANC, it was his struggle too; he was the embodiment of the struggle of the Africans of South Africa here in America. So that, when I finally met him, and watched him work politically, I was reminded of Mpanza, who propounded no theories, but changed the living and material conditions of his people without expecting or wanting to be remunerated for that. Mpanza remained the same as the people who lived with and around him. So did Elombe.. He was Harlem personified.

Had I not met him, I feel that I would have missed the essence and reality of the people of Harlem and what they were all about. Because Elombe knew how to ‘work’ the people and remain one with the people, he knew how to swim amongst the masses of people of African descent; he never lost his touch and  thrust. He was always in the mix. Thus I pay respect, in my own paltry way, to this ‘great man for whom nothing seemed impossible; who believed that through persistent and selfless struggle we could make our freedom dreams real.” Elombe always kept it real.

I learnt much from him, and reinforced what I believed in my heart about the seriousness and discipline required for the liberation struggles of the people to triumph.  This is a very serious undertaking indeed, and we need to pick up the struggle where Elombe, and leaders like him world-wide, left off.. Globally, you were and are still the brightest and strongest light in our darkened hovels , Elombe.. Rest in Peace…..

 

Skhokho sa Tlou

June 1, 2014

New York via Soweto, South Africa

 

In Remembrance of Brother Elombe

Posted in In Remembrance of Brother Elombe Brath with tags , , on May 27, 2014 by playthell

Elombe_4001 (1)

Pleading the cause of African Peoples

 Praise Song for a Tireless Pan-African Soldier

A more committed fighter for black liberation
Has yet to be born
And his mother is dead
Now that he has danced and joined the pantheon of honored ancestors
We shall never see his like again
For when the Gods fashioned Elombe Brath
They smashed the mold

I first met Elombe Brath at the Speaker’s Corner, which was at the intersection of 125th Street and Seventh Avenue in his beloved Harlem, 52 years ago.  There was no state office building there at the time, and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. – for whom the building is named and whose statue now stands on that spot, – was alive and well and giving the southern redneck crackers hell…… in the halls of Congress.  Where the State Office building now stands was Michaux’s book store – which displayed a sign over the entrance that announced: “The House of Proper Propaganda!”

There one could purchase every book on black history and radical political thought in print.  It was a worthy annex to the Schomburg Collection, the largest collection of materials on the black world to be found anywhere.  It was here that leaders of the newly liberated African nations and revolutionary movements fighting to rid Africa of all vestiges of European colonialism on the continent spoke to the people of Harlem.

Kwame Nkrumah, who led the first Ghana, sub-Saharan African nation to independence spoke there; Robert Mugabe spoke there just before he negotiated the independence of Zimbabwe at Whitehall in Britain, and the great Madiba, Nelson Mandela spoke there right after he was released from the prisons of the Apartheid South African government.  Elombe was the Master of Ceremonies on that great day and he  invited Duruba bin Wahad, an Afro-American revolutionary who had spent 27 years in the prisons of racist America, just as Mandela had done in South Africa, to speak.

Elombe Standing on Point while Duruba commands the mike
Elombe, Dhoruba, Mandela 2  1And Nelson Mandela Listens Carefully

This corner was also where home grown Pan-Africanist revolutionaries like Carlos Cook – who first tutored Elombe in Black Nationalism – “Pork Chop Davis,” Malcolm X, and Drs. Ben and John Hendrik Clarke held forth in grand orations that recounted the African past, envisioned the redemption of the motherland and called for a renaissance that would create a modern African culture capable of producing a mighty civilization that could defend African peoples against European domination everywhere. It was an incubator of revolutionary freedom dreams, a place where revolutionaries came for spiritual fortification and freedom highs.

It was here that a curious Vietnamese sailor – who visited New York on a French freighter and was chased uptown by white racist who told him his place was in Harlem – accidentally stumbled upon a rally where the great orator and Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey was holding forth.  He was so inspired by what he witnessed on this corner that he went home and began organizing a nationalist movement in his country.  When white folks heard of him again he had crushed the French army at Dien bien Phu, and was known to the world as Ho Chi Mien!

This is the corner where Elombe and I first met. I was up on a ladder, as was the custom at the time, running down an impassioned Marxist rap.  Standing below me checking me out with a blasé stare was this sharp dude, a Harlem hep cat who looked to smooth to move.  He held a stack of what seemed to be magazines under his arm, and he was accompanied by another dude fumbling with a camera who kind of favored him and I surmised that they must be related.

I thought I was really droppin science, the “Science of Society,” as I had been told by my political tutors – a very impressive group of older black radical leftist intellectual/activists that Queen Mother Moore had recently introduced me too.  But when I came down from the ladder, the guy with the magazines said “Where you from Jack….that stuff you talkin went outta style in the forties here in Harlem.  Revolutionary Pan-African Nationalism is what’s happenin now brother….you got to check out George Padmore Brother…Pan-Africanism or Communism!”

He introduced himself as Ronnie Brathwaite, and the other guy as his brother Cecil – they would later become Elombe and Kwame.  Before I could recover from his cavalier dismissal of my speech, he dropped a copy of the magazine on me; which turned out to be a softback book of cartoons titled “Color Us Cullud.”

I took the book and when I got back to Philadelphia, where I was living at the time, I gave it a close reading and was thoroughly fascinated by its contents. To say that I had never seen cartoons of such power and irreverence is an understatement.  I had seen scandalous cartoons before, such as the notorious “Tijuana Bibles,” which featured all of the most popular cartoons from the nation’s newspapers and animated shorts in the movie theaters that preceded the feature films, performing pornographic acts.

But these cartoons were irreverent in a different way: they were incendiary political statements. I can still remember some of those cartoons as if Elombe gave them to me yesterday, such was their power.    In fact, one of his biggest fans was Malcolm X – even tho he took a little swipe at them too.

Although most people know Elombe as a tireless activist, compelling orator and walking archive of the African revolution who seemed to have the entire history of the modern African struggle against European colonialism neatly filed in his head, and could call it up in detail at will…the Griot of the African revolution. He was all that and more.

Yet Elombe was by training and sensibility an artist.  He was the first person I ever met who viewed art as a potent weapon for liberation and knew how to wield it with the devastating effect of a Zulu warrior with an assegai. Since Elombe was a Black Nationalist he was naturally skeptical of, and even hostile to, the integrationist ideology that was the dominant trend in the mid-twentieth century.

He belonged to a tradition that had been the reigning ideology of black Americans in the mid-19th century, a time when secular black intellectuals like Dr. Martin Delaney and Robert Campbell as well as scholarly clergymen like Bishop Alexander Crummell and Edward Wilmont Blyden were all ardent nationalists and emigrationist that actually travelled to Africa on a mission of redemption. They were Pan-Africanists before the term was invented.

The great scholar on this subject, Professor Wilson Jeremiah Moses, tells us in his seminal book, “On the Wings of Ethiopia,” that Black Nationalist ideology was so pervasive during this period, when millions of Africans in America were regarded as livestock under southern laws crafted by slave masters, that it is virtually impossible to distinguish black Christianity from Black Nationalism.

This is the tradition that Marcus Garvey inherited and plugged into when he arrived in Harlem from Jamaica during the second decade of the 20th century, and explains why he was able to build a mass movement based on Black Nationalist ideology among the black minority in America and not in the West Indies where there was a black majority.

Elombe Brath belonged to this tradition and forged and ideology that was much like that of Kwame Nkrumah, who defined his philosophy of liberation as being part Garveyism and part Marxist.  I think Dr. Clark pegged him just right when he said “Elombe is a good Garveyite and a middling Marxist.”

Hence Elombe’s political cartoons reflected his nationalist ideology and contempt for integrationist doctrine, just as Bishop Crummell expressed his contempt for integrationist in the 19th century by constantly referring to the great Abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “that mulatto showman!”  For instance, among Elombe’s drawings was a cartoon of SNCC activist marching with a big banner that read “Masochism is our Stick Baby!”

His thinly veiled reference to Dr. King as “Reverend Eat A. Chicken Wing,” or his series of caricatured images of Sammy Davis Jr. under the headline “Sammy Davis Jr. is a Race Man…racing after white women, racing after white society, etc were poignant statements that raised the art of the political cartoon to a high level..   It is a testament to the power of these images and their biting witty scandalous captions that I remember them so graphically after half a century!

It was Elombe’s remarkable understanding of the power of art to inspire and fuel a movement for liberation that led him, in conjunction with his brother Kwame, to found the African Jazz Art Society in 1956 and recruit the great Jazz artists Max Roach and Abby Lincoln – the First Couple of what would soon become the Blacks Arts Movement in the 1960’s – to join them in their effort to create and promote a revolutionary black art.  There are some highly influential art movements whose origins can be traced to a particular time and place.

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln
Max and Abbey
 Avatars of a Revolutionary Black Artists

Max and Abbey - Freedom suite

Movement Music: Soundtrack of the black Liberation Struggle
Kwame Brathwaite
Kwame,  Hubbard remembered
Photographer of the Black Liberation Struggle

For instance DaDa, – a European art of random choice born of a loss of faith in organized modern technological civilization in the aftermath of the barbarism of World War I – can be traced to the Café Voltaire in Geneva Switzerland.  And the Bebop revolution, in which Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Kenny “Klook” Clarke transformed modern western music, can be located in Minton’s Playhouse here in Harlem.

Thus the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s, which changed the cultural consciousness of African Americans, began with the founding of the African Jazz Art Society in New York City. While others have emerged in popular lore as “The Father of the Black Arts Movement,” the real fathers of the movement are Elombe, Kwame and Max Roach.  For the record, when these Brothers founded the African Jazz art Society, Leroi Jones, who would become Amiri Baraka over a decade later, was happily married to Hettie Cohen, living in Greenwich Village, and was a leading poet in the Beat literary movement.

By virtue of the fact that Elombe was an artist he saw the black struggle in visual terms, and he was well aware that black people everywhere were inundated with racist images designed to degrade us, to portray us as less attractive than the lighter races.  If virtue itself was white, and God was a blue eyed white man with long flowing blond hair, then where does that leave those of us who are “of the deepest dye” – as the 18th century black scientist and designer of Washington DC Benjamin Banneker described himself in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, accompanied by a mathematical treatise, defending the intellect, indeed the humanity, of the African.

Elombe, like the great Afro-Brazilian scholar/activist Abdias do Naciemento, saw attacking the white standard of beauty as fundamental to the psychological liberation of black people who had suffered centuries of slavery and racial discrimination. Do Nascimento addressed the problem by organizing beauty contests for black women and mulatto women in Brazil, and The African Jazz Art Society, which  combined jazz performances with exhibitions of visual art, added fashion shows by the Grandassa Models, stunning black women with Afro hair styles and Afrocentric clothing.

They would host shows with titles like “Naturally 63.”   I remember when they came to Philadelphia to do a show and I thought I had stumbled into an African wonderland, where Black was unquestionably beautiful.  It was a revelation to many people.   Hence the slogan “black is beautiful,” natural hair styles and Afro-centric dress all started at the African Jazz Art Society, and spread across black America…and then the black world, like wildfire.

I know whereof I speak because I witnessed it!   What is all the more remarkable is that Kwame and Elombe were teenagers when they first came up with some of these ideas. They began by promoting Jazz concerts in the Bronx and their first artist was the great Betty Carter – which is a demonstration of their exquisite artistic taste. And furthermore they did this without following the dictates of some well formulated theory, figuring it out as they went about. When they encountered obstacles they just improvised like the performances of the Jazz musicians they so admired.

Like Duke Ellington, who came to New York as an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn but found his greater calling in music, Elombe would find a greater calling in revolutionary struggle.  And just as Duke’s training as a visual artist greatly influenced the character of his music, Elombe’s essential artist’s soul affected his approach to politics.  Both Duke and Elombe were brilliant autodidacts, self-taught men who made highly original contributions in their chosen field of endeavor.

In this sense Elombe belongs to a larger tradition of the broadly learned activist autodidact. The tradition of Frederick Douglas, CLR James, J. A. Rogers, Hubert Harrison, John Hendrik Clarke, Queen Mother Moore, James Boggs, Harold Cruse, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, et al.  Although Elombe never got a college degree, I don’t know any academic that had a greater command of the facts regarding the African liberation movement, and its relationship to the world revolutionary movements of the 20th century.

I say this having taught African history and politics in the WEB Dubois Department of Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts, alongside Chreif Guelal, who was a central committee member of the Algerian National Liberation Front, that fought and won one of the greatest revolutions in the twentieth century, and had served as an aid de camp to Dr. Franz Fanon, one of the most profound black revolutionary thinkers of the 20th century.

The liberation of African peoples is an amazingly complex subject that requires knowledge of European, Asian, and Latin American history and political affairs.  The program Elombe hosted for many years  on WBAI, “Afrikalidescope,” was a vital forum for serious informed discussion of African issues that has no counterpart in American media.

As an activist we can only marvel at the scope of his interests and the source of his energy.  He was a soldier in the struggle 24/7.  It is as if he felt that the weight of the entire black world was on his shoulders.  I remember being at a party once and Elombe disappeared.  When I asked where he was, somebody said “He’s probably in the bathroom holding a meeting!”

It is nothing short of amazing that, working without any kind of foundation or philanthropic support, Elombe managed to carry on the work of providing support for leaders of African liberation movements exiled in the US. For half a century!  Beginning in 1975 this work was conducted under the auspices of the Lumumba Coalition, an organization Elombe founded and named in honor of Patrice Lumumba, the assassinated leader of the independence movement in the Belgium Congo who became its first Prime Minister.  Some of the African revolutionaries Elombe supported became important government officials after winning independence.

Comrades in struggle
ElombeMandelahandshake
Nelson, Winnie and Elombe

 Thus he could have left the US and spent his later years as an honored guest in Africa, but he never abandoned our struggle.  He visited Africa, basked in the abundant accolades, yet he always returned to the protracted struggle on the home front, much of it as a member of the December 12th Coalition,  and remained a fighter until the end – a noble warrior carried out on his shield. Remarkably, commitment to the struggle for the advancement of the black working class seems to be encoded in the genes of this family.

In Barbados, the ancestral home of the Braithwaite family, Elombe’s cousin, Clenell Wickham, waged a long fight in behalf of black workers from his position as an Editor of the Herald, a local newspaper, during the era of British colonialism. Yet throughout his many years in the fight, Elombe maintained a job as a graphic artist at WABC television, where he was a strong union man and shop steward, going in to work on the graveyard shift after a day of movement activity.

He was there when Gil Nobel came to ABC to host Like It Is; he reached out to Gil and his contributions to the character of that show is beyond measure….and was responsible for much of its popularity among serious movement people. Elombe was responsible for virtually all of the coverage of African issues, after all before coming to ABC Gil was a newsman on black radio.  He, like most of the black newsmen in major white media at the time, was hired as a result of the black urban rebellions when white reporters were afraid to go into black communities to cover the story.

Gil Noble had not spent his life dealing with African issues and radical Afro-American American movements like Elombe; hence Gil was mightily instructed by their association.  The fact that both of them were Jazz lovers – Gil was a pretty good pianist – no doubt helped to cement their relationship.

Elombe and Wife

Elombe and Wife

A dedicated husband and Father
Elombe and Helene
Elombe and wife II
Married to the Movement

Any remembrance of the life of Elombe must point out that, unlike all the so-called “revolutionaries” who claim they were too busy making the revolution to marry their baby’s mama and raise their kids, Elombe was a steadfast husband and father who along with his wife of many years, Helene Normsa Brath, a former Grandassa Model, raised seven sons in Harlem.  His wife homeschooled some of them and they went on to college, none of them went to jail!

If this were his lone achievement in these trouble times, it would be worthy of sustained applause. My standards for heroes are rigorous; hence I have few of them.  Elombe was at the top of my list, a hero worthy of our youths; the highest expression of manhood.  A mighty tree has fallen in Harlem….and we are all poorer because of it.  So I say to my departed comrade: Hail and farewell!

**********************

 

Playthell Benjamin
Harlem New York
 May 27, 2014
**Photos of Elombe by: Kwame Brathwaite
Photo of Kwame by: Playthell Benjamin

A Beautiful Moment in Time

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on May 23, 2014 by playthell
Seahawks at the Whitehouse II If you hear a little Noise…It’s Barack and the Boys!

As I watched President Obama aka “Chilly B Knowledge” rapping with the Seattle Seahawks at the White house, I reflected on the magnificence of the moment.  Given the history of race relations in the USA, none of them should have been there.   It is a moment I never thought I would see in my lifetime: an Afro-American President congratulating an Afro-American quarterback who had just won the superbow, and it is without question irrefutable evidence that the status of Afro-Americans has undergone a paradigm shift since I fled Florida in 1960.

What it means, among myriad of other things, is that most white children and youth have a black hero that they idolize, and many of their parents do too.  Considering the fact that Rush Limbaugh’s audience averages 67 years of age – the geriatric crew that grew up in the golden age of white supremacy and are so bewildered by the radical changes in race relations they no longer recognize the America they grew up in, thus they roam about like disoriented zombies chanting “we want our country back!”

I am now convinced that the amazing success on black athletes paved the way for other changes in race relations, beginning with Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson.  However I did not always recognize the critical role of sport in promoting social change.  During the height of my revolutionary days, when everything that wasn’t about the revolution was cast aside, I stopped watching sports.  And I became so self-righteous about it that I began to bug my friends who remained sports fans.

One day when I had become a particular pain in the ass, my main boon coon Booker T. Quattlebaum, who taught writing on the college level, pointed out that the greatest writers in history were sports fans and produced a volume from his shelf that had selections on sports which began with the ancient Greeks. He also pointed out that the revolutionary socialist countries that I so admired was all sports fanatics; in fact they used sports as a measure of their social development.

I eventually saw his point and began to look at sports through new eyes.  The mere fact that in the ancient world the largest buildings were temples to the Gods, but in modern societies they are often sports stadiums, is eloquent testimony to the importance of sports in human affairs.  For one thing it is an alternative to war in supplying an outlet for male aggression – especially sports like football!

However in the context of American society, a society based on “white male supremacy” black success in sports  gave birth to a crude counter-argument.  Once it was obvious that white men were not physically superior to black men then the argument became…”well they can play sports but we are intellectually superior.”

The response of many well-meaning folks in the black community is to disparage sports as unimportant and only intellectual achievement matters. This is a false dichotomy, and it reflects a retrograde way of thinking – despite the self-righteous claims of those who hold this point of view.  When I was a boy growing up in racist apartheid Florida, our elders used the brilliant exploits of Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, etc to point out that just as whites folks claimed we were not good enough to compete with white men in professional sports was a god damned lie….their claim to intellectual superiority was an even bigger lie.

jackie-robinson- Calvery Officer

Lieutenant Jackie Robinson: Calvary Officer

The example of Jackie Robinson – a handsome, eloquent, ebony black UCLA graduate, US Army Calvary Officer, four sport college athlete, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, eloquent gentleman, corporate Vice President upon his retirement from Major League baseball –  as irrefutable proof that achievement was a matter of preparation and opportunity.

They went on to point out that given the education and opportunity to compete we could beat white men at anything just like Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were kicking their ass in the sports arena. The lesson for us was not that we could only be great athletes, but that the athletes were setting a standard of excellence that we should emulate in all of our endeavors.

The great Paul Robeson was held up as the gold standard.  A super athlete – who made All-American in football and starred in basketball, baseball, and track- Robeson also graduated first in his class at Rutgers, while working  as a tutor to his white class mates in Greek and Latin, and singing in the Glee Club. Robeson was the greatest example of human perfection in his time.  He went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University, became an internationally acclaimed Shakespearean actor and concertized as a singer world-wide.   He was so widely revered in Russia that they named a mountain after him.

Paul Robeson: The Greek Ideal of Mind Body Perfection

paul-robeson_1945

He would have made a better President than his white Contemporaries
 Robeson of Rutgers: All American

Paul Robeson - All American

The Greatest Football Player of his Time

This is the message that contemporary black critics of athletic achievement fail to understand.  Instead they have embarked on a silly, self-destructive, self-righteous denunciation of black achievement in sports – an arena that has brought us more wealth and glory on the world stage than any other field.  Among those who have offered vociferous critiques of this wrongheaded argument is Dr. Nathan Hare, a former professional boxer who holds two Ph.Ds.

This false dichotomy of sports vs. intellectual achievement was thoroughly critiqued by a distinguished group of black scholars in a conference at New York University hosted by Dr. Jeffery Sammons, a history professor and author of “Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society,” which is hands down the most important book ever written on boxing in America.

The conference was called to respond to Darwin’s Athletes,” a book written by a Dr. John Hoberman, a German American history professor at the University of Texas, that promotes the Athletic vs. Intellectual achievement argument;  he attributes the disparity between black athletic and intellectual achievement to socio/cultural rather than biological factors.

I have written an extensive essay that is both a report on the conference and a critique of Hoberman’s spurious thesis.  See: “On Race Culture and Sports,” which exposes Hoberman’s argument for the pompous misguided prattle that it is.   There are examples all around us that black men are quite capable of outstanding athletic and intellectual achievement.

They are everywhere, from Hall of Fame NFL tackle Allan Paige, who became Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, to Tampa Bay linebacker Dewey Selmon, who took a Ph.D in ancient philosophy at University of Oklahoma, to John Wideman, All-American basketball star at the University of Pennsylvania, who turned down an NBA career to pursue study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and became one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

I believe it is in recognition of the extraordinary achievement of the scholar/athlete that president Obama gave such props to Richard Sherman, who has been mercilessly maligned by white racist for being to vocally assertive for a young black man and tried their best to unjustly hang the “thug” label on him.  Just as they have done to President Obama himself – who has been called a Chicago thug more than once by these deranged creeps.

But the love the President showed Sherman as he recounted his remarkable achievements has obliterated the chatter of the haters and raised Sherm up where he belongs.  Thus when I sat and watched the world champion Seattle Seahawks, the reigning Super Bowl champions, hangin out in the White House, it was a very beautiful moment to me.

Barack Reaches out to Richard Sherman

Seattle Sea Hawks barack shakes hads with Sherman

 In a Single Gesture Barack Raised Sherman to Worldwide Celebrity
 Sherman Studies the Master Rapper at Work

Seattle sea Hawks at the White House- Sherman

Looking Beyond football?

In the Huddle

Seahawks at the White house

An Image of real black male power: Physically and Intellectually!

 

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 22, 2014

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